9 Investigates asked if Orlando police Chief John Mina is violating city policy, law enforcement ethics guidelines and federal law by appearing in uniform in campaign materials for his run for Orange County sheriff.
9 Investigates' Karla Ray sat down with Mina after seeing a photo of him in full city-issued uniform prominently placed on the front page of his campaign website.
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City officials told 9 Investigates that because the photo was taken before Mina announced his bid for sheriff, the city doesn't consider it a violation of policy.
Mina describes the photos as historic and even if they were taken for city business, the city has no problem with them being used in his campaign.
"I see the concern. That’s why I’ve been very careful," Mina said. "I've checked with city staff, city legal, and reviewed our policies to ensure I’m in compliance."
City policy prohibits "wearing or using a city uniform or insignia" while participating in politics.
Orlando Police Department policy states that political campaigning must be done "during off-duty hours and while not in uniform."
City leaders told 9 Investigates in a statement that because the images Mina is using were taken during his law enforcement duties before his announcement to run for sheriff, he is not violating policy.
“I am chief of police, I’m running for sheriff and I’m going to highlight that,” Mina said.
Florida law prohibits municipal officers and employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police has published a "Law Enforcement Code of Ethics," which states that officers must "not make endorsements of political candidates while wearing the department’s official uniform."
There are also federal guidelines on this issue.
The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees or employees of agencies that receive federal funding -- such as OPD -- from using their official authority or influence to interfere with an election or nomination for office.
In a published opinion, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel wrote that "state and local employees violate the Hatch Act when they use their official titles ... or wear official uniforms while engaged in political activity."
Whether it or not it explicitly violates policy, political analyst and Rollins College professor Rick Foglesong said the practice is problematic.
"A police uniform is a powerful symbol of authority," Foglesong said. "It should be worn by cops on duty, but not when they’re running as private citizens for elected office."
Mina’s only current opponent, former Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jose "Joe" Lopez, has no photos of himself wearing his former uniform on his website.
9 Investigates discovered one campaign event flyer in which Lopez was wearing his uniform. But since he’s not currently a trooper, the guidelines and rules about wearing uniforms don’t explicitly apply to him.
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